WASHINGTON – Marylanders with AIDS and the AIDS virus who are now insured under Medicaid could lose access to health care if new federal rules are implemented, activist groups say.
The Clinton administration has proposed setting a limit on the amount of money the federal government gives the states for Medicaid, the health insurance program for more than 38 million low-income Americans. Medicaid is funded with both federal and state money but is administered by the states.
Currently, there is no limit on the money the federal government gives the states. Funding levels are determined by the wealth of the state – with the poorer states getting more. In Maryland, the federal government pays half of the annual $4 billion Medicaid bill.
Winnie Stachelberg, deputy director for legislation for Human Rights, a nonprofit organization based in Washington, said her organization is “very much opposed” to the president’s plan.
She and Christine Lubinski, deputy executive director of AIDS Action, a nonprofit group, said states would either have to cut back on Medicaid services offered to HIV/AIDS beneficiaries or restrict eligibility.
Stachelberg said AIDS patients on Medicaid could lose access to home health care and drugs.
But Health Care Financing Administrator Bruce C. Vladeck, head of the agency responsible for administering Medicaid, told a congressional panel this week that states would be able to offer the same benefits under the president’s proposal.
The federal government would give states more leeway in administering Medicaid, which would make them more efficient in the delivery of services, he said. Imposing a limit on federal Medicaid expenditures should help save $22 billion over a five- year period, Vladeck said.
“Savings do not warrant changing the structure of the program,” Stachelberg said.
Rep. Henry A. Waxman, D-Calif., a member of the House Commerce subcommittee on health and environment, said he is skeptical that setting a limit on federal Medicaid spending would have no affect on coverage.
Gov. Parris N. Glendening’s offfice said this week it is too early to tell how the president’s proposal would affect Maryland’s Medicaid program.
Activist groups say states with a high AIDS population, such as Maryland, would not receive enough federal money to help pay for the prohibitive costs associated with the disease.
Between June 1986 and 1996, Maryland recorded 14,082 AIDS and HIV positive cases – the ninth highest number in the nation – according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
There are 6,495 AIDS cases in Maryland. Fifty-three percent of those patients receive Medicaid, said Brian Flanagan, spokesman for the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.
In 1996, the national Medicaid program cost $162 billion, with the federal government paying 57 percent and the states 43 percent. The program represents 6 percent of the national budget. -30-